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My Ellerby Saga

Success! I'm an Ellerby!

A couple of male Ellerbys agreed to take Y-DNA tests, which follow the male-male-male line. With Y-67, which tests 67 markers, a small genetic distance indicates a close relationship.

These male Ellerbys are third cousins to me, and to each other. With one, I have a genetic distance of 1; the other, of 4. The two men have a genetic distance of 3.

Those tests provide strong evidence that I have the right answer to a question that I have had since I started working on my family history in 1978.

I have never found a birth record for my grandfather, William Elmer Obee. He said he was born on Nov. 4, 1878, in Holland Landing, Ontario, but I could find no documentation of that. The family legend was that he was illegitimate.

I had a cousin who was also interested in genealogy, so we worked together. We checked every possible branch of the Obee family in Holland Landing, chasing every lead, including some clues that our grandfather left. When he married in 1905, for example, he gave names for his parents. We could not find any evidence that the couple he named even existed.

As time passed, we became convinced that he was born to an umarried woman, and we were confident that we knew her name: Rose Ellen Obee.

Our grandfather had a sister, and our parents both believed that the two children were full siblings, with the same father. With that in mind I tracked down the descendants of my great-aunt, and discovered that the same theory had been passed down in that family as well.

That would prove to be a key detail in the search.

Time passed. The 1970s became the 1980s became the 1990s, and then we had a new century. As the years went by, I had that annoying gap in the family tree. The top line of the chart was empty after just two generations.

In 2006, we finally made progress. When Ancestry launched its index to Ontario births, I found a record for my grandfather's sister. Her mother was Rose Ellen Obee, and the registration included the name of her father: William Ellerby. If the theory about full siblings was correct, that would be my grandfather's father as well.

My cousin and I did a fair bit of research into the Ellerbys. William was the son of David Ellerby, who had arrived in Canada from Lincolnshire, England in about 1825. We traced him back another generation. We also found the names of his other children, and their spouses, and in some cases their children. The toughest person to find has been William Ellerby, the most important person in this story. After the 1881 census, there was no trace of him.

The Ellerby lead was promising, but we could not take it as truth without further confirmation. We did not add the Ellerbys to our family trees, but left them in separate files.

More time passed. In 2015, I did a DNA test with Ancestry. In 2016, I found an Ellerby descendant among my matches. Then another, then another, then another. In 2017, a descendant of my grandfather's sister tested -- and as expected, she had matches on the Obee and Ellerby sides. Yes, the family legend was true: Rose Ellen's children were full siblings.

The DNA matches to that point came through autosomal tests, which cover all ancestral lines. One match could be coincidental; it could be that a match is actually on another line, not the Ellerby line. But I have matches with descendants of four of William's siblings; they cannot all be coincidental. I also match with a descendant of an Ellerby from Lincolnshire, and he has no ancestry in North America. It's looking quite solid.

What more can be done? I needed a male Ellerby willing to take a Y-DNA test, which deals with chromosomes passed from male to male. A close match on the Y chromosome should provide certainty. I took the Y test, but there were no close matches. Using public records such as the census and birth, marriage and death databases, as well as obituaries, voters lists and Facebook, I researched David Ellerby's descendants to the present day.

He had three sons, including William. There are hundreds of descendants. I identified about a dozen likely Y-DNA Ellerby connections -- basically, descendants who are alive and male with the Ellerby name. These people have a male-male-male descent from David Ellerby, the same descent that I believe that I have. My candidates are in Ontario, Canada, and in the United States. Most of them would be third cousins to me, although some are one generation down, or in other words, fourth cousins to my son.

The two who agreed to help gave me the results I was looking for. I am confident that I have the answer to the question that I have had for almost 40 years, and has been hanging over my family for more than a century.

The autosomal tests were through Ancestry, and the Y-DNA tests were done through Family Tree DNA.

But wait, there is more: A new company, Living DNA, claims to be able to identify ancestral regions within England. I have tried that test as well. The Ellerbys were from Lincolnshire - but that county does not show up as one of my ancestral areas on Living DNA. That is not enough to convince me to dismiss the Ellerbys; I will wait to see if my Living DNA results change as more people test.

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